SPRINGFIELD, MA (WGB/WSHM) - Western Mass News is tracking the actions being taken across much of Hampden County following the elevated risk level for the EEE virus.
The high risk in Springfield, Agawam, West Springfield, and other towns was triggered after health officials were informed that a Hampden County woman in one of those communities tested positive for the illness.
Athletic games are cancelled and health officials are pleading with the public to wear bug spray and avoid outdoor activity between dusk and dawn.
There is no cure for EEE and there's concern when the steps to keep yourself healthy are only preventative.
We spoke with an infectious disease physician to get more answers on the mysterious nature of EEE.
"[Have you ever seen cases of EEE in your experience either in training or here?] Yes," Megan Gallagher, an Infectious Disease Physician at Baystate Medical Center, tells us.
Gallagher says EEE is a difficult disease for researchers to track.
"It’s not well studied and there isn't a good test for it. We don’t actually know what percentage of people who get it develop severe disease versus what percentage have no or mild symptoms," stated Gallagher.
She says EEE's cyclical nature means it's hard to study and compare active virus years, like this one, to years between spikes.
"There have been years in which there have been zero cases in the United States and so, even in high prevalence years, the numbers still are not very high, so it’s difficult to study a disease that you know does not occur every single year," explained Gallagher.
Gallagher says that's partially why the best practice is wearing bug spray, long sleeves, and avoiding dusk to dawn are so general and preventative, rather than reactionary.
When she does have a suspected case, there's a check list she must consult.
"You do a history, a physical. Generally speaking, in almost every case, we are suspecting it. You would do a lumbar puncture to assess what the spinal fluid looks like," says Gallagher.
If lab tests come back with a EEE positive, it must be reported to the state.
When questioning the patient, Gallagher says it's important to get a sense if a symptom could be linked to mosquito exposure.
"Trying to get a sense of, "Are you outdoors in a location where you might be exposed to mosquitoes, particularly if it’s at a time of day were mosquito activity is the highest?" asked Gallagher.
Again, health officials are cautioning people to wear bug spray and avoid dusk through dawn to avoid exposure to mosquitoes.
Western Mass News will continue to keep you updated with the latest information on risk level changes.
At this time, local schools in the affected areas are working on moving and rescheduling games into next week.